Region A call for Caribbean integration

Asia has demonstrated in recent times the need for rapid growth to combat poverty and the Cayman Islands substantiated the irrefutable reality that this was so, according to Warren Smith, Caribbean Development Bank president-elect and a keynote speaker at the UCCI’s conference on Leadership, Governance and Empowerment in the Caribbean. The Caribbean now needs to come together as a whole to make rapid growth a reality for all regional nations.

Effective leaders have courage, humility and above-all, the ability to listen to those over whom they had the privilege to lead, according to Warren Smith. These qualities were particularly important for the Caribbean which, at this time, was experiencing daunting challenges such as threats to the region’s economic security, which he said, put in jeopardy the region’s fun-loving way of life.

Smith said he was reminded of the quote by Paul Harvey who said, “In times like these there have always been times like these”. Leaders, he said, needed to be dealers in hope.

Smith suggested three ways for regional leaders to narrow their focus for action: by identifying elements that constitute good leadership, such as good governance and empowering those who are being led; identifying task, i.e. the critical success factors requiring the urgent attention of leaders; and looking at the potential regional approach to leadership.

What makes a good leader

All great leaders had one thing in common. They possessed the willingness to unequivocally confront the major anxiety of their people in their time. This was the essence of leadership, he said. Other important qualities included determination and single-mindedness.

“It’s important to appreciate that a great insecurity for people is their lack of ability to control their destiny within their social and economic life,” he said.

The Caribbean in particular has been susceptible to the vulnerabilities of small island states as it was prone to the vagaries of natural hazards as well as the narrowness of small island economies.

“Better communications, an increased mobility of people and global warming have all heightened the sense of insecurity and foreboding,” he said.

The new era in trade relations between the Caribbean and Europe since the implementation of the 2008 economic partnership agreement has only served to increase uncertainty for Caribbean suppliers and farmers, particularly banana growers in the Eastern Caribbean, who, Smith says, have been the hardest hit.

The collapse of the financial markets in 2008 also has created uncertainty among people in the Caribbean, especially with collapses within the Caribbean of financial institutions that was causing considerable hardship to those in Eastern Caribbean countries.

“People in the Caribbean are looking to their leaders to carve out new roles for Caribbean nations with new growth trajectories,” he confirmed.

Reaching across the divide

New economic vistas meant the removal of obstacles to create new industries and the need for re-engineering traditional industries to make them more competitive, according to Smith. Removing economic constraints through regional solutions was key but there has been disappointment within the Caribbean in the lack of success of regionally integrated projects so far.

“Increasingly leaders need to recognise that the solutions to the most pressing issues are to be found by reaching out across the divide of water that separates our island nations,” he said.

An example of cooperation to benefit the Caribbean was Kenneth McClintock, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State’s challenge to the region to reduce its electricity costs further to an interesting study by the World Bank, which suggests that it is possible for electricity costs to be reduced on a regional scale. Smith said the findings from the World Bank study were impatient for debate and would depend upon the capacity of leaders to rise above narrow national outlooks and look at energy in a regional capacity for a common good.

Regional approach to education

Growth patterns were tied to the development of human capital across the skills range, Smith said, but it was a fact that the development and maintenance of a modern education system was expensive for micro and small island states. It was therefore heartening, he said, to see the University of the West Indies developing virtual learning for non-campus territories of the region.

“This lowers costs and increases the quality of education, delivering information and communication technologies in educational services over long distances,” he confirmed. “I believe that this technology needs to be expanded to all levels of education so every Caribbean child can get access to the best education in the region.”

Climate change needs

Caribbean to join forces

Needs far exceeded resources when it came to climate change, Smith went on to say, and the Caribbean needed to stand together when attempting to obtain some of the $30 billion set aside by rich, developed nations as fast track funding for climate change adaptation until 2012, according to their Copenhagen Accord. That said, $15 billion of these funds were pledged by Japan, which is facing its own woes right now further to the earthquake and tsunami last month and will no doubt be highly in need of such funds.

“The estimated cost of adaptation will be around $100 billion by 2020,” Smith confirmed. “There needs to be tireless championing to ensure that the Caribbean gets access to resources needed and a concerted approach is required. It’s a classic case of the early bird catching the worm.”

The serious issue of

crime and violence

The issue of crime and violence was reaching almost epidemic proportions among countries in the Caribbean. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago topped the list of most violent countries in the region; however Smith said there were worrisome signs that smaller islands and mainland Caribbean islands, such as Belize and Guyana were also experiencing growth spikes in crime.

Increases in crime and violence were due to the increase in the international trade of narcotics, especially the flow of cocaine and marijuana from South American producers to North American consumers, the Caribbean’s location making it a transit point.

“Increases in crime and violence undermine growth, threaten human welfare and impede social development,” he said, adding that the economic costs of crime and violence were enormous, dampening tourism and stifling new business development.

The issue of crime and violence within the Caribbean was the most challenging for countries in the region to overcome, Smith said, and was the greatest test of leadership because it required consensus across the divide.

“The region does not just need to share intelligence in this regard; it needs to share lessons learnt. I’m convinced that a regional approach will be effective,” he said.

In Smith’s mind, the most urgent issue that Caribbean leaders ought to be tackling was the need to develop a strategy to shift the region’s economic activities onto new growth trajectories to reduce poverty.